Who are Jewish Americans and what do we really believe? The approach of Pesach offers an especially good opportunity to raise that question. The seder, after all, is the single most widely observed ritual among Jewish Americans. Why might that be?
Steven Bayme, whose devotion to serving the Jewish community over a long career deserves the highest regard, has written an Opinion piece (“Modern Orthodoxy at the Crossroads,” The Jewish Week, March 7) that requires the attention of everyone concerned about the future of this critically important movement.
Orthodox Judaism believes in the importance of engaging reality, not a world we wish existed.
Rabbi Chaim Strauchler and Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz
Special To The Jewish Week
As rabbis of Modern Orthodox synagogues, we consistently advocate for greater women’s involvement in Jewish life. As a result, we are often invited to speak at local non-denominational Jewish schools about halacha (Jewish law) and the role of women. Often in these pluralistic environments, students discover what differentiates the various denominations and learn about the presence of a mechitza (a separation between men and women) in Orthodox synagogues. We arrive at these forums and hear questions like: Why is Orthodoxy anti-women? Why is your synagogue so backwards that it still treats men and women differently? Aren’t we well past the point where egalitarianism is the societal norm?
Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, a senior fellow of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), and author of Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future (2013), is someone I deeply respect. However, his latest Opinion essay (“Limiting Debate on Israel Will Only Hurt Us,” The Jewish Week, Feb. 4) is a perspective that, if acted upon, has the potential to actually hurt our community.
You Tell Us We’re The Future, But We’re Also The Present
We are the good, the bad and everything in between. We are our mistakes, our failures and our sins. We are Saturday nights taking selfies with red cups, Monday mornings asleep during first period and Thursday evenings procrastinating on Buzzfeed. We are our addictions to the Internet and our obsessions with Instagram. We spend too much money on Starbucks and too much time on Snapchat. We gossip and we lie. And we would join a revolution for the sweet taste of rebellion. No shame. No regrets. YOLO. We’re teenagers and we’re pretty selfish sometimes.
Editor’s Note: This article is the grand prizewinner of the most recent Fresh Ink For Teens writing contest. More than 70 contestants from around the country and Israel answered the following question: “What Do You Want Jewish Community Leaders To Know About Teens Today?” Juliet Freudman’s accompanying article was the runner-up. The winner and runner-up received $200 and $180 Amazon gift cards. Fresh Ink For Teens is a Jewish Week-sponsored webzine by and for Jewish teens.
I recently led a periodic outside review of the Young Judaea Year Course, the flagship gap-year non-yeshiva program for American teenagers. I discovered a striking but not surprising anomaly. Although most participants describe this year between high school and college as a “miracle,” “magical,” the best year of my life,” few American Jews bother attending. Only 400 to 600 non-Orthodox American Jews per year choose to spend a year living in Israel after high school. With all the anxiety about Israel’s standing on college campuses and the next generation’s Jewish identity, parents are overlooking an obvious solution to the twin problems.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “Faith is a blush in the presence of God.” Put another way, the purpose of a synagogue, or any house of worship for that matter, is to alert congregants of the gap between who we are and who we should be — an awareness that often induces us to blush. The paradox embedded in all synagogues is that at one and the same time they seek to embrace Jews “where they are,” yet also direct them towards “where they ought to be.”
Young Families, Singles Flocking to Upper East Side; ‘The Memory Is In Their Taste Buds’: The Lure of Sephardic Food; Safra Synagogue Rabbi’s Growing Empire; Sephardic And Egalitarian at B’nai Jeshurun; Giving Voice to Sephardic Music.